Monday, November 28, 2005

Yearly Holiday Weekend Tour of Hardcore Homelessness

Ever since the bad old days of Michael R. White, the Coalition has walked the streets of Cleveland to make sure that homeless people are not being harrassed by city personnel or police. We pick a concentrated area between Lakeside and Prospect from Public Square to East 22nd to walk around and talk to homeless people. We always had problems on Thanksgiving weekend with Mayor White. He repeatedly tried to "clean up" the Downtown starting at Thanksgiving so that shoppers would save Higbees/Dillards, May Company, Tower City and the Galleria. Despite his best efforts to arrest, harass, disperse, and generally make the lives of a homeless people living hell, two out of the four retail centers closed. (I predict one more will be gone within a year.)

This also gives us the opportunity to count the hard core homeless in our city. The reality is that Thanksgiving weekend is when the lowest number of homeless people sleep outside for the whole year. Many family or friends take homeless people in for this holiday weekend. It does give us the opportunity to compare one year to the next as well. We walk on the same day every year--the Saturday after Thanksgiving. It does have some value in showing the number of people who refuse shelter and stay on the streets. This year was a substantial increase over the last year, and continues a trend of increases since 2100 Lakeside Men's Shelter opened in 2000.

So, this year in the bitter cold of Saturday we walked the streets again. We gave out gloves, street cards and offered rides to anyone who wanted to relocate to a shelter. We met 27 people this Saturday who were bundled up and braving the elements on the streets of Cleveland. Most were in alcoves under plastic or on the heated sidewalks that run down Superior Ave. No one was willing to relocate to a shelter. One guy got angry when we offered to take him to 2100 Lakeside. Everyone appreciated the gloves, and the population was pretty diverse. There were 5 or 6 women in the group--an increase. There were a number of white people among the hard core, and they all seemed to be well prepared for the cold. (The African American population is disproportionately represented in Cleveland's homeless population--near 75%).

There was one guy on Euclid Ave. who we worried about who did not have any gloves. He was shivering and did not have a blanket. He seemed very out of place. The sidewalk of Euclid Ave. near the Playhouse is not a spot that a homeless person chooses to sleep. It is too busy and not especially warm. There are very few abandoned buildings in that stretch, and it is very visible. We tried everything to convince him to move to another spot. We were worried that he would get run over in the Winterfest foot traffic. So finally, we went and got a blanket from 2100 Lakeside and brought it back so that at least he would not die on the streets. This was the only guy that those of us on the walk will worry about at night. Good luck this winter, Mr. Playhouse Square.

There was no one on East 17th near Superior, which is very unusual. For 10 years we have met people on this street. The other oddity was that there was no one sleeping on the four Quadrants of Public Square. Just last week there were 10 people on the Square. On Monday 11/21/05 the event organizers for Winterfest called and wanted to know what to do about the homeless people on Public Square. I said that they had a right to exist on the appropriately named Square, but that during the Children's Games a bunch of groups got together and found storage space for homeless people so that they would not have to keep their stuff on the Square. This worked well in that they had a secure place and the homeless guys did not have to worry that their stuff would be stolen. They must have taken me up on my offer, because on Saturday morning there were no homeless people and no bags on the Square. We asked everyone if they had been harassed and no one reported any harassment. We did get other issues that came up about violence by non-public employees, but no police harassment issues.

A history of the Thanksgiving walk by the Coalition:
2005: 27 people sleeping outside Downtown
2004: 19 people sleeping outside Downtown
2003: 11 people sleeping outside Downtown
2002: 9 people sleeping outside Downtown
2001: 6 people sleeping outside Downtown
2000: 3-5 people sleeping outside Downtown* This is the first year that 2100 Lakeside is in operation.
1999: 42 people sleeping outside Downtown
1998: 60 people sleeping outside Downtown

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

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